Q: Is it Safe to Push Train Cars?

It upsets me every time I see a photo of the Metro-North train that derailed in 2013 in the Bronx, killing my friend, Jim Lovell (Waiting for Metro-North, Nov. 30). My heart goes out to his family. The path that the MTA is on will be good for safety but one thing upsets me. Dropping my daughter off at the station the other day I noticed that they’re still pushing the cars toward New York ahead of the engine, which seems to lead to a more disastrous outcome during a derailment. Has this been addressed? ~Frank Pidala, Cold Spring

A: After a train pushing its cars in California hit an SUV on the tracks in 2005, killing 11 people, the Federal Railroad Administration reviewed 446 crashes and found pushing cars was slightly more dangerous to passengers but not enough to justify ending the practice, which is used by most railroads because it saves so much time. Think of the delays if the engine had to be moved from one end of the train to the other to switch directions, especially beneath Grand Central Station.

The 2005 study didn’t address derailments not caused by collisions, but engineers in 2013 said it wouldn’t have made much difference at Sputyen Duyvil because at 82 mph the cars would have still rolled after they came off the tracks. After the 2005 accident in California, train officials banned passengers from sitting in the first 11 rows of the first car of pushed trains but soon dropped the rule. In the New York area, push-pull diesel engines are only used on trains that use non-electrified portions of the Metro-North tracks, which includes the Hudson Line north of Croton-Harmon.

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